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Five Steps

There is no justice in Russia

A sketch, partially in color, depicting an arm holding up a sword and a pair of eyes behind, peering through the background.
Victoria Lomasko, Five Steps. 2022, pen on paper. Courtesy of the Santa Giulia Museum, Fondazione Brescia Musei.

1. Isolation

I was born in a closed, totalitarian country. One would think that as long as a child didn’t know any other reality, they could be happy.

Here I am flipping through the pages of a children’s magazine for early readers: I study the pretty pictures and read the propaganda — stories about the USSR and its pioneers and heroes. Here I am at school: I’ve forgotten my red tie and am sent home to retrieve it. Here I am in the assembly hall after school, where the whole class has been forced to march and sing patriotic songs: there’s a Soviet holiday coming up and preparations are underway. I don’t want to march. I say that I have a headache, that I’m about to faint. I beg to be sent home. 

My dad hates communism and makes a living drawing communist propaganda. My parents attend meetings after work, cheer at demonstrations, and give up the occasional Saturday to volunteer for the cause. I remember hundreds of details of everyday life in the Soviet Union, but how to convey what seems most important?

I’m on a high-speed train traveling from Brussels to Frankfurt. Two Europeans my age sit across from me. They smile when my gaze rests on them. Their faces are relaxed, their bodies loose and free. They have the look of people who have never known humiliation.

Life in a closed, totalitarian country means that you’ll inevitably come up against humiliation, which is itself a form of control and punishment. You can be talented, cheerful, brave — but if you contravene the system it will destroy you. You think about the fact that years before you were born, a group of politicians closed off the rest of the world to you: you can fantasize, speculate, assemble a picture in your mind based on movies and photos and stories told by strangers, but you’ll never encounter the world you’ve been cut off from. You’ll never taste it for yourself. The USSR collapsed in 1991, but I never lost the fear that I would again end up in a closed country where my life would be controlled by other people.

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